Global engagement needed to address vaccine discrimination

by S BIRRUNTHA / pic by BLOOMBERG

THE discrimination against certain Covid-19 vaccines by some countries has signalled the need for countries to cooperate and engage each other as the virus continues to infect people around the world.

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Koh Kar Chai told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) that international discussions based on data would be the way forward to resolving these issues.

He said it is still unclear as to why certain vaccines on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) emergency use listing are not recognised by some countries under their travel guidelines.

However, he noted that different countries would have their own policies in recognising vaccines, as demonstrated by the UK’s new travel rules effective Oct 4.

Under the guideline, travellers to the UK who have had the full required dosage of the AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, or Janssen vaccines will be subjected to less stringent travel rules.

However, Malaysians inoculated with the Sinovac vaccine would have to follow the rules set for the unvaccinated.

Dr Koh stressed that countries should refer to the list of vaccines recognised and recommended by WHO.

“The WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation has also issued interim recommendations for the use of the Sinovac vaccine against Covid-19.

“Vaccine inequality will definitely be an issue if a country is to formulate its own list of recognised vaccines as opposed to following that of WHO’s,” he said.

Meanwhile, Osel Group chief clinical and innovative scientist Dr Kris See concurred that constant engagement among countries is key in handling vaccine discrimination issues.

He said if this issue continues without proper engagement, it would defeat the purpose of having the vaccine and administering them to the population.

“Not so long ago, under the Covid-19 vaccine global access (Covax), all developed nations were encouraging vaccine diplomacy, but now this unfortunate inequality occurs.

“I think this is a difficult problem that policymakers need to urgently address to allow international travel to open up with lesser bureaucratic issues.

“In simple terms, if WHO is the world governing body for health-related issues, then all vaccines recognised by it should be enough for travelling means,” he told TMR.

He emphasised that it is extremely important to advocate constant engagements and discussions about this issue to cater to upcoming international travel.

“Perhaps Asean could come together and debate the issues, similar to how the European Union (EU) has done, and collectively forge an alliance to speak on such matters,” he noted.

Previously, Malaysia had criticised the act of some countries discriminating against certain Covid-19 vaccines and called on the United Nations (UN) and the WHO to intervene and make appropriate and fair decisions on international travel.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar said discriminating against the type of vaccine would defeat the purpose of administering vaccines to people, as well as discourage innovation in vaccine manufacturing.

He further added that any decisions on travel restrictions by other countries must be made based on the respective countries’ disease control and prevention, as well as public health measures, not based on the type of vaccine.